Photo credit: Stuart Isett, Fortune Most Powerful Women

Recently, a client mentioned she had received feedback that her presentations were too factual and didn’t have enough personal connection with the audience.

During our coaching session, she came up with a great idea.

She mentioned that she has a list of 10 “go-to” statistics that she can refer to in important conversations. Whenever she’s speaking with clients or colleagues, she can pull from this list to reinforce a point.

“What if I came up with a list of “go-to” stories?” She asked me.


Stories or anecdotes can make your data come alive and help you connect with an audience on a personal level. But it can be hard to come up with stories on the spot. Why not spend some time in advance coming up with a list of “go-to” stories that you can use in professional settings?

In my book Speak with Impact, I discuss that a story is not a biography and it’s not a laundry list of experiences. A story is one experience that has a beginning, middle, and end. It has a moral which should reinforce the message of your presentation.

Here are 10 prompts you can use to find professional stories that work with both clients and colleagues:

  1. What made you decide to go into your current line of work? Tell us about one moment in time.
  2. What made you decide to leave your last job?
  3. What is one experience that keeps you inspired in your work?
  4. Tell us about a time in which you learned one of your core values. What is the value? Who did you learn it from? What happened?
  5. What’s the best client success story that you’ve ever heard? What made you feel really proud of your work?
  6. What’s the best comeback story you heard after someone you know made a mistake?
  7. What has been one of the biggest learning lessons in your life?
  8. Tell us about a time you failed at something. What happened and what did you learn?
  9. Tell us a lesson you learned from someone you had written off and didn’t think had anything to teach you. What happened?
  10. What’s one story that reminds you why you are in your current industry?

Keep in mind that professional stories shouldn’t always portray a success. In fact, the audience may relate to you more if you share a story of vulnerability or failure.

How can you find stories? Set aside 30 minutes during your most productive time of day. Turn off distractions like phones and tablets. Brainstorm stories from your life based on the prompts above and flesh them out to describe where you were, how you were feeling, and what happened. Some of these will become your “go-to” stories that you can share when beginning a client pitch, interviewing for a job, or inspiring your team.

Each story helps your audience see you as a real person so they can connect with you on a personal level. Sharing who we are is one of the most powerful ways we build trust with others.

What are your “go-to” stories?